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Virtual Reality in Education: The VR Classroom

Virtual and augmented reality as an emerging technology is disrupting the digital and technological revolution.

Virtual Reality in Education The VR Classroom

Figure 1: Prototype of the Virtual Primary Classroom.

Virtual and augmented reality as an emerging technology is disrupting the digital and technological revolution. Virtual reality offers us the ability to be present in a digital world and will transform we work, play and communicate with our peers. This sense of presence is absent in current technology as we are staring at rectangular screens and our levels of interaction are limited. What other technology can allow us to examine a working 3D heart or a living cell, to be able to touch, move and manipulate it? What other technology allows us to communicate with anyone in the world in a virtual space with the ability to shake hands, watch movies together on a virtual coach and communicate as a human being rather than through a screen? In the past we have always had to see the virtual world through a window, be it a computer screen, tablet or phone. Now we can step through the window into the virtual space and interact with it, blurring the distinction between our analogue world and the digital world.

Virtual Reality, over all emerging technologies, has the potential to transform the education sector. There are infinite applications for virtual reality in education including travelling to distant countries, time travelling to major historical events such as the first world war,[i] being present at the molecular level of cells in the human body or travelling into our solar system to understand what it would be like to walk on Mars![ii] Virtual Reality marks the beginning of a new relationship that humans have with technology, one where we participate in the digital world rather than passively experience it.

At the Carnegie School of Education, we’ve developed and created a ‘Virtual Primary Classroom’ with the help and guidance of Bal Singh from the School of Computing, Creative Technologies and Engineering. The aim of this groundbreaking project is for student teachers to experience and interact in challenging scenarios in a virtual classroom. Once the student puts on the Virtual Reality Headset they are transformed into a virtual teacher interacting with virtual children who have been programmed to behave in a predetermined way. The students can choose to interact with a number of challenging scenarios which include children:

  • exhibiting challenging behaviors within the classroom,
  • who have special educational needs such as autism and ADHD,
  • who disclose child-protection issues to you,
  • who are contributing to low level disruption and impacting on the classroom environment.

During the scenarios, the student teachers will be able to interact with the children and make informed choices about how they will respond to the behavior in the classroom in order to create a purposeful and engaged learning environment. Objects such as pencils, books and other classroom objects can be manipulated by the student teachers in order to create a learning environment that matches the learning aims of the scenario. The aim is to create a maximum level of presence and immersion into the virtual classroom so that they feel that their experience is as real and authentic as possible to being in a physical classroom.

Research will also be carried out on the student immersion level using wearables watches to monitor their heart rate during their experience and recording the experience and decisions the student makes during the scenario. We hope to investigate what happens to their heart rate when they are experiencing the challenging behaviors in the virtual classroom to understand the level of presence they feel and in turn reflecting on the decisions that they make during the scenario.

It is hoped that this innovative research will validate the benefits of immersing student teachers in the virtual classroom and this immersion in the scenarios will have a positive impact on our student teacher's professional development.

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Dr Graham Parton

Dr Graham Parton is Staff Lead for Primary Education and Continuing Professional Development within the school and Principal Lecturer, Leeds Beckett University.

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